Puzzles, grammar and football in the mud
I have now been in Gondar for around a week and a half and have settled into the rhythm of the city. It takes a bit of getting used to as everything seems to run in an informal manner. One day you may wake up with the sun shining, leave for work at 8, get there for 8:30 (when class should start) to find 15 children waiting for you and have a smooth morning. The next day you may wake up to find there is hail, thunder and lightning. You walk up hill with water pouring over your feet as you go to get the bus only to find it full. After a 15 minute wait in the rain, followed by a bus journey full of unexplained stops, you get to work half an hour late and soaked through to find that only two of the participants have arrived so far. The day ends behind schedule after an hour of football in the mud. This informality, lack of structure and efficiency, whilst frustrating at times, is what makes Gondar such an interesting place to live and work. Every day is another exciting step into the unknown!
Currently there are three classes which run: Grades 1 & 2, with an age range of around 5 to 13; Grades 3 & 4, with an age range of around 9-14; Grades 5 – 8, with an age range of around 12-23 (disparate age ranges is due to how often the participants go to school, and at what age they started school). Working at the club is interesting and engaging, though not without its challenges, the most obvious of these being language.
Grades 1 & 2 speak almost no English although one of the participants has some basic Hebrew. Primarily we are playing games, doing jigsaw puzzles and singing songs. The biggest challenge is getting the children to play together. To illustrate, if I get them in a circle and the put a jigsaw puzzle down in front of them, 30 tiny hands will all grab as many pieces as possible and then try to force the pieces together with total disregard to the picture on the box. On one occasion, a girl had taken four pieces into a corner and point blank refused to share them with the rest of the group. As we couldn’t understand each other, the issue was only resolved after I picked her up, carried her out of the room and put her down outside. Needless to say, she is now sharing and caring with everyone else.
With Grades 3 & 4 we are learning a little Hebrew. They are an engaging group and it is really enjoyable to teach them. They have been learning how to introduce themselves, explain how old they are and a little about their families. We had a particularly fun session on Monday where they drew pictures of Gondar, their house and their families and labeled them in Hebrew.
Grades 5 – 8 are learning English. Communication is easiest with them although still a challenge. Two days a week, Getachew brings in his laptop for this group and teaches them basic computer skills. Whilst he is working with small groups, I practice reading with the rest. They really care about their education and make a huge effort in lessons. As a group they are good at helping each other out and working as a team.
With all classes, we learn for between an hour and a half to two hours and then play football for the remaining time. Due to the high altitude (Gondar is over 2000 metres above sea level) it took a long time for my body to adjust and in the first week I was out of breath after minutes. I am now well adjusted though and scoring plenty of goals helping to further our reputation as a footballing nation.
The summer school is a real success which is genuinely improving the lives of its students. Whilst it faces challenges, it is easy to see how it can continue throughout the year helping the Jewish community of Gondar to grow and prosper.